New Site Layout

I’ve been so terribly busy the last few days with getting my writing in order (I have a lot of commissions this week — on Thanksgiving weekend, of course!) that I’ve forgotten to mention that my next Beneath the Brand post should be up early next week.  I am looking forward to sharing this with you as well!

The new layout is cleaner, but the navigation should remain the same.  I may go through and do some reorganizing again later, but for now, I suppose this will do.

And I’m so far behind on Nanowrimo… I hope my followers are managing better than I am. I’m sitting at about 12k words but I want to get a lot done this weekend.  Let’s hope!

❤ Helly

The Rebranding of the Romance Novel

[Reposted from my article at Beneath the Brand.]

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the success of E.L. James’ erotic 50 Shades trilogy. For a quick recap, the story encompasses a young billionaire professor and philanthropist’s relationship with a naïve, virginal recent college grad. It started out as Twilight fanfiction, but grew into something much more provocative — and now people are trying to wrap their heads around why. Was it the explicit writing? Was it because it branded itself as a “different,” more modern and kinky tale of romance? Maybe it was something else altogether.

Well, part of the success of the series is that the media keeps talking about it. The series’ popularity has been attributed to a number of factors: from the economic recession influencing housewives to escape from reality; to the popularity of e-readers such as Kindles or Nooks providing a private, anonymous way to read kink material; to even good, old-fashioned curiosity in the allure of BDSM and the taboo culture surrounding it.

But another reason it’s prevalent is because romance novels needed an update. And with the 50 Shades series, we saw a fresh new take on the genre emerging: it’s dark, kinky, and alternative, especially when compared to the bodice-rippers of the Harlequin genre. This simply isn’t your old-fashioned romance novel. So why is it drawing so much attention?

Strangely, although the content is more explicit than most romance novels, the cover art is actually more subdued. Where one would normally find two passionate, fit, attractive figures entwined in each other’s arms, clothes falling to the ground in the heat of the moment, they now find simply a mysterious face mask. Or a tie. Handcuffs. Something that is perhaps symbolic of the nuanced themes of dominance vs. submission that you will find within the pages of the book, but definitely not an overt symbol of lurid sex. But is cover art really a reason that women are interested in the trilogy?

“I knew it was going to be kinky when I saw a tie, hand cuffs and a mask on the covers. I think it makes your mind go to a different place seeing an item rather than a provocative cover, because then you know that item is telling a story all on its own,” says one fan who states that she has completely fallen in love with the series. “It’s like a can of Pringles — once you read one page, you can’t stop until you’re completely done with all three books. I know many people who read the whole series in under a week.” Another fan agrees: “I definitely prefer it to the more Fabio-ish covers.”

Yet, the covers didn’t seem to affect everyone in the same manner. “I wouldn’t want to read other books with this theme; for me, it was curiosity that arose with the popularity of this book series,” says one woman who became interested because of the talk surrounding the steamy trilogy. “The cover art didn’t influence me at all.”

Still another reader says that she was curious about the sex, but mostly, she wanted to read 50 Shades for what it was — a romance novel. “Overall, when I think back to those books and what I enjoyed, I liked the teasing, the flirting, banter, the love story. And that’s what hooked me…the falling in love.”

So it would seem that for some, this rebranding of romance has been extremely influential in their choice of reading material. Perhaps for people who are looking for something a little darker and more taboo, the change works very well: for those readers who have an active imagination, all they need to see is a symbol, like a tie or handcuffs, and their minds will fill in the blanks. This makes the story much more real and nuanced for them. For others, the social hype surrounding the book is enough to entice them, and they are pleasantly surprised to find that the trilogy is a good read.

What do you think?

Nanowrimo Progress — Are you keeping up?

I am loathe to admit that maybe I’ve been too busy writing lately, but it would appear that this is a “problem” from which I am currently suffering — It’s day 5 of Nanowrimo and I’ve written 1500 words. Argh! I’ve finally managed to finish a medium-length commission tonight (at least the rough draft of it, anyway; waiting on its approval), only to find out I have another project for me within the next day, as well as one within the next week. Then I was approached today by a website that specializes in helping creative types find jobs; they were responding to a resume I had sent out looking for a blogging job. They don’t offer pay with their work, but they’re fairly well known, and I guess I could benefit from the exposure (plus it’s only one 500-word article a week!). I interviewed for a writing job at a start-up company today, and I received a lot of unexpected praise for my skills, so hopefully I’ve landed this opportunity as well.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m bragging – I am just stunned. I have enjoyed writing for a long time, and I have only very recently begun to share my love of the craft with others while simultaneously getting paid to do it. I was silent on the internet for a very long time, meaning not posting on forums, blogging, or even commenting on videos or articles. I just hid from everything, hoping that I wouldn’t upset anyone or receive negative feedback. I’ve talked about all this before, of course, but it’s similar to when you step out of a dark room into the direct sunlight – it hurts your eyes, it’s overwhelming, and it feels incredibly intense. I’ve worked on flexing my creative muscles and getting back out into the world once more, focusing on being innovative and being active. My eyes are beginning to adjust to the light, but it’s still intense.

So with that, I want to post an excerpt of what I have accomplished in my first chapter of my novel here!

“I will find more later, I promise.” Aria looked at her mother, whose eyes searched those of her daughter. She knew that her mother sought something more than the comfort of words that would only serve to die in the air, mere moments after they had been spoken – she wanted a tangible token of hope instead: a method of transport away from their makeshift shelter, or the friendly hand of a soldier to lead them to safety, away from the desperation and ruin. But all the young woman could do was smile and kiss her mother on the forehead, as if that would seal away her doubts and fears, because presently, she could only offer words and kind gestures in place of their freedom. Then, before she had to listen to her mother refute her food in favor of feeding her daughter instead, she opened the scrap metal door to their home and stepped out onto the snow, into the quiet night, and closed it as softly as she could behind her.

As far as she could see, the white powder was blackened by the soot and ashes of the destruction. It had been three weeks. Nothing had changed; darkness still ruled their days, and their nights were yet ruled by restlessness and misery. They had to maintain vigilance against looters – they were thieves, all of them, but they were also desperate souls wanting kindling, clothes, or a weapon to protect themselves. How could she blame them for trying to take the things that would allow them to keep their lives?

Aria felt tears stinging her eyes, and her nose began to tingle – both from the cold, and from her sudden onslaught of melancholy. She sniffled. At the age of twenty-six, she had not expected to be living in a shanty town, with no reliable food source or a way of earning her keep. Her mother, in her mid-fifties, was not an old woman by any means, but she had lived a comfortable, happy life until the blackening, protected by naivety and, in part, by her complacency. She had married Aria’s father at a young age, and soon after lived a relatively quiet and sheltered life as a housewife and mother. Now, she was like a child, without the skills to take care of herself in the volatile land, or the gumption to attempt to learn how. Now Aria took care of her mother, without recompense or complaints, as her mother had done for her when she was a babe.

She took a deep breath, trying to calm her spirit. In moments like this, she didn’t want her mother to see how hopeless things were; how lost and small she felt pitted against the elements in the way they were. She shivered, not wanting to think of what could happen to them if they didn’t hear anything from their government soon, and turned to go back inside. Whether tonight would bring more broth made from their frozen stock, or perhaps the treat of a lost rabbit that had the misfortune of wandering into one of Aria’s traps waiting in the dark around the shack, she didn’t know. And presently, she couldn’t think clearly enough to care. She closed the metal door behind her, observing her mother cleaning the kettle and the bowl. Chantal looked tired, her eyes with bags underneath them, her face fixed in a frown, deep lines of concentration etched into her skin. She dipped a cloth in warm water that they had siphoned from melting snow, and rubbed the rag over the stone slowly. Steam rose from the cloth and wafted to the woman’s face; tendrils of vapor caressed her pale skin, making it glisten in the light of the fire emanating from their improvised stove – a sorry pit dug into the ground, stones surrounding it, and, above it, scrap metal twisted into a spit of sorts. Aria’s eyes followed the movement of her mother’s rough, red knuckles as she rubbed their dinnerware free from debris, so that they could eat another meal from clean “dishes”. Just like before.

“Mom, I’m sorry, I think I’m just gonna turn in for the night,” Aria said, offering her mother another smile. “I’m so tired. And it’s so cold tonight.”

“Wait for me, Aria,” her mother replied softly. “I’m tired, too. And I’d like to tell you a story about your sister before you sleep.”

Ah, Carivel. The girl who disappeared six years ago, after dad left. At least she didn’t have to witness this. I wonder if she’s still—

“Is that okay? Do you mind?” Chantal’s voice broke through her daughter’s thoughts, pulling the latter from her dream.

“Yes, of course, mom. Tell me a story.”

And now, I am going to go write more for Nanowrimo.  I’ve gotta catch up! 🙂  Again — good luck to all who are participating!

Writing for a Living: Or, an Exercise in Open-Mindedness

Are you a professional writer? If you’re not a professional currently, then maybe you dream of becoming one? Well, I know the feeling. I’ve wanted to create stories for people’s enjoyment ever since I was a little girl. I made stop-motion movies with my sisters. We also wrote and drew comics. When we weren’t busy with creating our own materials, we wrote reviews on anime and games on our own website. Even as an adult I’ve been experimenting with creating my own projects. Most recently I’ve been putting together a machinima series (http://www.youtube.com/user/xephirproductions if you’re interested) and writing a novel for nanowrimo (more excerpts to come soon!). But I’ve also put a lot of effort into offering commissions, and I’ve received a number of bids already – which honestly surprised me. But more on that in a moment.

I have always been creative, and my creations have taken many different forms over the years. But one common thread that weaves all of my interests together is writing. When I did my reviews, my sister and I spent hours taking notes and writing our thoughts down for other people to read. We wrote our own stories and scripts for our comics and short movies. Even with my creative endeavors now, I find myself enjoying the planning and scripting process, where I can bring all sorts of characters to life through my words. So because I’ve enjoyed this so much, I decided I would offer my skills to people who needed a bit of help. I am creative and I can follow directions easily, so I thought I would offer to write what other people wanted, if they gave me the idea, characters, and a direction they wanted to take the story.

Oh, naïve Helly! You forget that this is the internet; that people feed on the power they get from anonymity and all the bounds they can push with it. You also forgot that a lot of people like to find porn on the internet. And a lot of people want to read well-written porn, not just watch it. And most of all, when anonymity and boundary-pushing meets the art of writing pornography, well, apparently there’s no limit to the things people want to request from a writer.

My first job was for smut. And I mean extremely graphic, violent, snuff. But I have maintained a professional relationship with the client for over a year now, and he is always kind and pays me on time. I am now working on another commission with graphic scenes, perhaps a little heavier than 50 Shades of Grey (and I like to think the quality of the product is better, too!). I have absolutely no problems writing this sort of material for people in a professional environment; that is, when we treat each other with mutual respect and I am paid fairly for my work. I am just surprised that so many people are hungry for well-written erotica, which sounds so obvious to me even as I write it. But it’s true!

I don’t know how comfortable many aspiring writers are with producing this sort of material, but I am writing this blog entry to say that for me, it’s actually become a comfortable and well-paying genre to pursue. I usually ghostwrite, so my name won’t be on published materials (which is actually good if I want to go through my portfolio with someone in the future) and I use a pseudonym for other materials that I publicly produce. Even though I have said here that I’ve written erotica, I want to make it clear that I’m not ashamed of it, nor am I trying to hide it. I’d just prefer to keep those materials separate from my non-erotic titles.  All in all, I’ve come to terms with the fact that this is a highly-desired genre, especially for private clients.  As long as I am paid fairly and treated professionally, it is no different than if I were writing a science-fiction or action story.

Have any of you ever written erotica for a client? Is it something you would consider? What sorts of subjects would you write about to make a living?

It’s Nanowrimo time — Are you participating?

Like many of you out there in the blogosphere (I hate that word, and yet I use it anyway), I have been looking forward to nanowrimo.org‘s annual event — oh yes, thirty days and nights of literary abandon, here I come! I have a lot of notes written down, some about character development, others about plot points, and a lot about the economy, language, and politics of my fictional realm. I am scared that, as usual, I’ve put myself in an extremely hefty project that I will not be able to finish. I planned on taking an old project from high school and revamping it.

In high school, I was extremely into anime and the novelty of it as a fairly “new” genre (although I was aware there had been anime fans in the US for years, it was not popular until the late 90s). I had never seen such amazing fantasy and sci-fi stories presented through animation, so naturally, I went on a journey to watch as much of it as I could. I had a particular fondness for dark, dystopian (or semi-dystopian) sci-fi anime such as serial experiments lain, Boogiepop Phantom, Big O, and Gundam. Anything with giant robots, corrupt politicians, and murder tended to be right up my alley. But on the other hand, I crooned over shows like Magic Knight Rayearth, The Vision of Escaflowne, and Oh! My Goddess. I loved movies like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. I played games like Final Fantasy and Parasite Eve, but I also spent hours buried in the islands and lore of MYST. So many genres!

So I wrote a story about a dystopian future in which people had a giant airship and used pseudo-science to bring the dead back to life. It was not terribly well done. But I liked the ideas that I had, and after reading through my fifty-two pages of poorly-written novella, I realized that I could easily fit this into a different genre: Steampunk. Now, my idea of steampunk probably doesn’t neatly fall into this category, but it’s definitely the best descriptor I can come up with. I still have a dystopian realm, survival/horror, and of course magic and science.

So without further ado, here’s the synopsis of my plot so far (it will evolve as I move through the story, I’m sure). And if you want to add me on nanowrimo, my name is monaxia!

For centuries, the realm of Theliess ran like a well-oiled machine. The three empires it nurtured all played a valuable role in its global economy: The Orrusov Empire presided over much of the intellectual and political requirements, the city-state of Anaulel over theology and magics, and Allakesh over agriculture and technology. Each of the three empires had a relatively high standard of living for its citizens, and provided valuable contributions to its neighboring realms, thereby maintaining balance throughout the lands. For most, this was an idyllic setup which allowed the denizens of Theliess easy access to necessities such as food, housing, employment and financial security. Anyone who could not afford such luxuries often traveled to the agrarian sectors, where farmers and engineers were willing to take outsiders in for apprenticeships and training.

But their simple lives in were only temporarily veiled from the eyes of the blackened gods that lurked among them. The balance of power between man and the gods was never perfect, but for years it was tilted in man’s favor, keeping the gods’ fury under control. But as Theliess began to approach its population threshold, darker political ideas came to fruition in moments of desperation: Destruction of the poorer communities, razing of areas that did not offer sufficient food production, and eventually of the people deemed intellectually or physically inferior. As the greed and chaos mounted inside of the elite sector, a sharp line began to divide those who sought to regulate the lives of others, and those who clung to the ways things had always been.

And then, one morning, the answer came. The sun was blotted from the sky; crops withered and died. Electricity was a luxurious dream — food even moreso. Now, everyone fights to survive against the wrath of the blackened gods, but the powers they harbor are more powerful than they’d ever dreamed of. The people of Theliess must band together and use their skills of magic and science, intellect and intuition, and religion and rationality, to save themselves from destruction.

Best of luck to all you participating in Nanowrimo! 🙂